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The Politics of Shaming and Sanctions: Rewriting the Anatomy of the Bangladeshi State

Bleie, Tone

This paper aims to stimulate a shift from an “issue” or “problem” approach in Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT) studies to a comprehensive interdisciplinary study of civil-military relations, characterized by power-sharing arrangements, a culture of patronage and factionalist behavior. CHT is commonly wedged between two dominant, rather incompatible narratives; one nationalist and security-oriented, the other normative—anchored in a liberal democracy model and human rights. The latter position has been articulated by, among others, the International Chittagong Hill Tracts Commission (CHTC), mostly informed by international law and political science, less so by political anthropology’s descriptive emic (insiders’ points of view) approaches of norms, institutions and practices.

Drawing on all these disciplines, this paper seeks to fill this gap, and to substantiate the paper’s main assumption: that alleged regime shifts should be substituted by an analytical emphasis of structural continuity, in order to better explain why the CHT Accord’s principal provisions remain largely unimplemented 20 years after the deal was signed, regardless of parties in executive power. In order to test the validity of this assertion, five main arguments will be sought substantiated.

First, civil-military relations are intertwined—a conglomerate—and cemented by patrimonial vertical and horizontal bonds of patronage, non-transparent control over state resources and a power-sharing arrangement that makes the categories “civilian” and “military” fuzzy and overlapping. Second, this tacit power-sharing arrangement has three distinct phases: an early antagonistic one; a second experimental, increasingly institutionalized phase during military rule (with partly civilian elements) and reign; and third, the current phase of uneasy opportunistic co-existence, with (until recently) caretaker governments as a safety valve. Fourth, during times of military rule, the armed conflict in CHT became integral to this tacit national power-sharing structure, a civil-military complex not only in its own right, but one of the Bangladeshi state’s bearing pillars. A final argument is that the sources of reproduction of a political culture of oral rhetoric (agitational in nature), patronage and factionalism need to be fully appreciated in order to explain striking structural continuity across institutions (political parties, military and bureaucracy).

Furthermore, a deeper understanding of such societal and systemwide deeply culturally coded behavioral patterns renders it possible to predict and develop approaches that may engender structural change and a new scope for national and international actors to facilitate, steer or help augment positive societal change.


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Indigenous Peoples' Rights and Unreported Struggles: Conflict and Peace
Institute for the Study of Human Rights, Columbia University

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Institute for the Study of Human Rights
Institute for the Study of Human Rights, Columbia University
Published Here
December 15, 2017


This is a chapter from "Indigenous Peoples' Rights and Unreported Struggles: Conflict and Peace". The entire volume is available in Academic Commons at